(Update on this project now available here.)
A handful of Bay Area folks will be going polyphasic over the next month. By that, I mean we'll be adopting a sleep schedule that gets us 4 extra hours of productive work or play time per day, or two whole months per year. (Or a decade over 60 years.)
If you want to tell me about why it's a bad idea, feel free to post comments. I don't plan to use this space to sell you on polyphasic sleep. That might be another post, depending on how this goes.
I'm going to be collecting some very simple data through this here form. I invite you to join us!
This will be hard. It will hurt. You'll probably need a buddy to follow you around and keep you awake. If you don't have a lot of self-discipline, I don't recommend even trying.
Still with me? If you want in by the time you're done reading this, message me (or comment below) with your name so I know who you are. Here's the plan.
1. Stop using caffeine right now. If you try to maintain a caffeine addition during this process, you will fail. I promise.
2. Data collection began on July 10th. Start submitting daily reports at any point as soon as you want to participate, especially if you can begin in the next couple of days and then stick to our schedule. Fill out the above form once every 24hrs (whenever it's convenient) until August 10th.
3. Pick a time to take a 20min nap each day from Monday, July 15th through Sunday, July 21st. You probably won't actually sleep during this time, but you can use it for mindfulness meditation if you stay awake. The goal is to practice napping. This is important.
4. On Monday, July 22nd, begin fasting immediately after lunch.
5. On the night of Monday, July 22nd, skip sleep. No naps, then an all-nighter. This is the official adaptation start date. The idea is to make you sleep deprived so your naps the next day are more likely to take.
6. Eat breakfast on the morning of Tuesday, July 23rd. This should be the first time you've eaten anything since Monday lunch.
7. Starting on the morning of Tuesday, July 23rd, take a 20min nap every 2hrs (for a total of 12 naps per day). Do not oversleep. Use an obnoxious alarm or whatever other means necessary. "Nap" counts as lying down trying to sleep; take your naps on a strict schedule regardless of how long you successfully sleep.
8. Start to cut your naps down toward 6 a day as quickly as you can without it hurting too much. Beginning to dream during your naps is a good indicator that you're ready for this part.*
9. Once you're down to one nap every 4 hours, you're on what's known as the Uberman schedule.
10. Matt Fallshaw informs me that the next part is a little tricky.
10.1. If you managed to reach the Uberman feeling good, you'll probably start getting really tired again shortly thereafter. This flavor of tired will be different from what you've suffered for the past week, and by that flavor you will know that you have hit SWS deprivation. If this is what happens to you, the new kind of sleepy is your cue to transition straight to the Everyman 3 schedule, which means a 3 hour block of core sleep plus three 20 minute naps spaced evenly throughout the day. And that's it!
10.2. If you're unlucky, you'll not quite have reached Uberman in the space of a week--that is, you'll still be hanging on to some extra naps on July 30th. Then you'll be wolloped by a new bout of sleepiness. This flavor of tired will be different from the last. If it's is tolerable, drop straight to full Uberman and try to hold out for at least 24hrs, then convert to the Everyman 3. If the new flavor of tired is intolerable, convert to E3 as soon as the new tired hits, and expect the next week or so to be tougher on you than on the lucky ones.
Why are we doing this weird naptation adaptation plan thing instead of just going straight for the Everyman 3? Mostly because Matthew Fallshaw said to. If you know Matt, that's enough. In case you don't: It takes people about a month to adapt to the Everyman 3, but only about a week to adapt to the Uberman. The Uberman forces your body to learn to get its REM and SWS in those tiny 20 minute naps. If you're still giving it core sleep time, your body won't take the fullest possible advantage of naps right away.
If you think you can keep the Uberman schedule indefinitely, go for it! But keep me informed about it so I know what's up with my data.
*A clarification from Matt: "Drop naps as quickly as you can while remaining functional. The most important part of this period is that you don't sleep for longer than 20 minutes at a time, but the earlier you can get to a pure Uberman schedule the better. Take naps as you need them (with at least 40 minutes awake and moving around between naps) while pushing towards Uberman. The longer you can maintain pure Uberman before introducing a longer core sleep block the further along you'll be to a full adaptation."
ETA: I chose the psychomotor vigilance task (which you'll find if you check out the form I linked to) because the specific thing I'm trying to do here is distinguish polyphasic from chronic partial sleep restriction. If people on polyphasic return to their monophasic PVT baseline after a couple of weeks, especially if they stay there for a long time, that's clear evidence that the polyphasers are not experiencing the same physiological phenomenon as people suffering from chronic partial sleep restriction, which is what I'm actually concerned about. One of the only really well established facts in the literature on partial sleep restriction is that people who are deprived of a couple of hours of sleep a night get worse at the PVT as a function of time. If it's the case that the polyphasers will end up with memory problems, attention problems, and related issues, the simplest explanation is that they're suffering from a kind of chronic partial sleep restriction. I hope that clears some things up.
Please do mental benchmarking: Mnemosyne/Anki/spaced-repetition, dual n-back, http://www.quantified-mind.com/ , http://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/ - something objective.
I'll be doing several of these, but what everyone's doing is a psychomotor vigilance task, which my research so far suggests is the most efficient way known to track the whole jumble of things under the heading of "sleep deprivation". If the results of this are interesting and I do a much bigger thing in the future, we'll do a whole lot more tests then.
The PVT is a good thing to use. For people not familiar with it, it tracks the ability to maintain focus, which is the primary thing that sleep deprivation destroys (and makes driving while tired so dangerous). There are long-term concerns about mental ability which the PVT will not address- some people who have done these sorts of sleep schedules find that they run out of 'creativity' after a few weeks, which is a serious concern but something hard to measure. (It's also hard for me to differentiate between "I generate ideas for 8 hours of useful work a day, and when I'm awake 20 hours a day that's obviously too little" and "I don't generate ideas anymore" from their reports.)
Prediction: Since you are making this significantly harder than what it needs to be most people will give up before they even do Everyman for a week. And nobody will sustain Uberman since you aren't even committing to trying to keep it up.
Unrelated: Bay Area rationalists seem to rely a lot on arguments from authority over everything else(I don't have any data but I just see comments like the one about Matt relatively often). I wonder if seeing awesome people that are right a lot of the time might be coming with a cost.
You're completely right; I don't have solid evidence to back this up. In fact, that's why I'm doing this. I have various anecdotes and largely irrelevant sleep studies. This is preliminary exploratory research, to see whether it's worth my time to look into it further. It's whatever the opposite of 'armchair theorizing' is.
There are no double-blind studies. All evidence so far is largely anecdotal, because it's extremely challenging to get a statistically significant number of people to do this to themselves at the same time. In addition to being painful, it's also disruptive to everyday life for awhile. There is a myriad of statistical evidence about how sleep deprivation works, but by and large most people just report "if you don't get X hours of sleep per night, then things suck".
Based on many anecdotes (which are spread around in personal correspondence, forums, listservs, etc) the instructions above make sense. It is the best data available and the point of this pilot study is to build momentum towards doing a more in-depth study. But we have to start with a hypothesis, and based on the anecdotes, this is that hypothesis.
I've spent somewhere between 20 and 50 hours reading about polyphasic sleep, and have tried two adaptations, one with each method. My uberman adaptation using the 6nap one (with sometimes 1 extra) failed, but years later I successfully adapted to everyman using the 12nap method. So this collective experience means that I have evidence that this adaptation plan is a solid one, it's just not easy to impart to you.
ETA: My point here is that if we insist on having evidence before we do experiments, we will not do a lot of science today.
So, I've tried uberman twice, and failed both times. A report for the first time is here, and I thought I had written up the second time but I'm not finding it easily. The second time, one of my friends tried Everyman, and got the impression that it was physiologically similar to only sleeping 5-6 hours a night; he had more time to do stuff, but was less rested for that time.
I strongly recommend having someone else there to make sure you're awake when you should be. Otherwise, you very likely will crash and sleep for eight hours. Many people have the 'answering machine' wake up with their alarm, do whatever is necessary to shut the alarm off, and then go back to sleep, without remembering any of it. This is not an experience I had until I hadn't slept more than 30 minutes in ~five days.
Also, at some point my ability to make coherent sentences took a hit, and I would sometimes say word salad. Since the experiment, I have had occasional word recall problems, which I notice about once a month (though I think the frequency was higher closer to the experiment). Thinking they're connected may be post hoc ergo propter hoc (there are several other plausible explanations), but I'm trying to avoid the failure mode of "well, no one's reported detrimental effects yet, so I should discount my experience."
How social are the people trying this? Do any of you have jobs with scheduled anything? Go to classes or events that are 2 hours long? Having "more hours" a day, if works would be great but it seems to be insanely inconvenient for anyone who spends a lot of time driving or wants to watch a movie or go to a concert or needs to work with people. Assuming the final "quality" of the hours you have ends up on average unaffected by sleep deprivation, the extremely weird and disciplined schedule still seems terrible to me, and I don't even have a job that is particularly scheduled. This strikes as something that gives you more lonely hours at the cost of wrecking a lot of the hours you might have with people. This is less of a problem if you're in a community of people doing this but still seems pretty rough.
Having done Uberman in the past, I'd like to recommend a few tweaks and general advice.
1) Consider swapping from 20 minute naps to 24 minute naps. The optimal is 24 minutes asleep with 1-2 minutes to fall asleep. I can't seem to find the original article by NASA atm, but here's an article referencing NASA's original study on optimal naps.
2) Devise a program to get from part 7 to part 10 instead of "try to space out longer". I did a standard uberman schedule and going even 20 minutes past my appointed nap time would immediately put me into sleep deprivation which risked oversleeping an alarm. I'm not sure how you plan to soft adjust to longer spaces between naps, but just winging it while sleep deprived seems like a recipe for danger.
3) Stock up on food. Expect to eat 50% more.
4) Make a list of things to do while sleep deprived at 4am for the adjustment period. I thought I was going to learn a new language with Rosetta Stone; I ended up reading fanfiction and watching through TV series. I simply didn't have the mental juice to do anything until after I'd adjusted.
5) Set up a sleep cycle calendar so you'll know what you're going to do every wedge, and what you're doing every day. It's very easy to lose track of days on a polyphasic schedule.
6) Buy a sleep mask. It's so much easier to sleep during the day with one.
I hope none of you polyphasers drive to school/work, or we are likely to be a few rationalists short by the time this experiment is over.
Not necessarily if you weight the number of rationalists by how long each is awake.
You also have to weight the quality of their thinking they do while awake, either for the same reason you are multiplying by hours awake or simply because lower quality thinking will push some accross the threshold of qualifying as 'rationalist'.
Fantastic! Illuminating an evidence-based path to an extra 4 hours of productive work or play time per day would do much to help mankind. Even if you have only, say, a 5% chance of success, the expected value of what you are doing is enormous.
I'd like to see study comparing the above approach to regular modafinil use at whatever dose allows alertness with that amount of sleep on an ongoing basis.
Luke Muehlhauser once claimed that, with the help of modafinil, he was able to sleep only once every 48 hours, for a continuous period of a few months. Unfortunately, he never elaborated on how he felt while doing this, or on why he eventually reverted to a normal sleep schedule.
It would be cool if people doing this kept a journal, and wrote down changes in the way they think and feel during this. I tried it twice, and lasted a solid two weeks during one of the attempts, but it wreaked havoc on my ability to store and/or recall memories. I would have a lot of trouble telling you what I did a few days ago, and I would be irrationally angry/upset for about 15 seconds at the person who woke me up.(I did this with a group of three.) A few times I yelled angry nonsense at them for this short time. We had a "safe word" that was supposed to prove we were awake, ours was "alligator". After one nap I was woken up, angrily hissed "ARMADILLO" and tried to go back to sleep. It was pretty funny even at the time, but I decided to stop since I figured it wasn't good for me, and I was pretty miserable. I was definitely micro sleeping at times as well, so I'll echo Petruchio's warning about looking out for that.
Best of luck, hope it works out for you better than it did for me.
Here are two articles quite skeptical of polyphasic sleep that might be of interest.
I don't necessarily agree with the author, but I guess it's good to be aware of arguments on both sides of the debate.
I've a few questions about those "atypical sleep patterns" :
Are there studies about their long-term effect on health, lifespan, IQ, ... ?
How do they cope with sickness/wounds ? If you get the flu, will you be able to heal as fast using a Uberman or Everyman sleep pattern ? People doing monophasic will tend to sleep much more when sick, both increase the size of the monophasic sleep and doing naps. What happens if you follow Uberman/Everyman ? Can you get this additional sleep when sick, without breaking the whole adaptation ?
How do they cop
The data collection period is now over. How did it go?
I have a work schedule and no willing buddy in the area. Could you keep the data form up indefinitely? I'd love to submit to the study at a later date.
I suppose modafinil should be in the same boat as caffeine for the purposes of this experiment.
Would this be advisable/possible for someone who does moderate to heavy physical activity (lifting heavy at the gym, dancing) almost daily?
I wanted to get to a point where I get REM sleep during naps and tried doing this during my summer vacation. Didn't have a friend to keep me awake. Stayed up one night and napped through the next day fine. The next night I got into a state where I'd start constantly nodding off when sitting down even with the naps every two hours, and was feeling completely out of it. I couldn't figure out how to keep going. I'd been planning on watching TV, which was now right out as I'd completely stopped being able to focus on what's going on, and playing twichy action ... (read more)
Seconded, I'm curious about this.
I don't know how you did your calculations, but:
The last two are inconsistent. An extra twelfth of every year, and an extra sixth of every sixty years?
Maybe I didn't get enough sleep.
Do you expect to reach a point where you don't need an alarm clock?
(People already doing this: do you need an alarm clock? How long have you been doing this for?)
Brienne, my roommate and I would like to do this, but our schedule won't match yours because we're time constrained. (We already started taking baseline data, but we're doing the adaptation this weekend as opposed to on Monday.) Should we still fill out your form or will the timing mess things up?
Also, my PMV score gets about ~50ms lower when I use a mouse as opposed to a trackpad. Hopefully this isn't an issue, but people should make sure they're using consistent hardware.
Steve Pavlina on going back to monophasic-- summary: he found that polyphasic was generally good for him mentally and physically (including that he didn't need to cut back on exercise), but he couldn't find a satisfactory way to live with the required tight scheduling.
This article includes a list of all his posts about polyphasic sleep.
Steve Pavlina found that he retained the ability to fall asleep quickly.
I tried to get onto the Uberman sleep schedule twice while at university, but ended up failing around 5 days in. Your plan of easing into it may significantly improve the probability of success, so I am very excited for you.
One thing to watch out for is the increase intake of food. When doing it the first time, I did not think to connect a 37.5% increase in waking time with an increase in calories. I ended up having bouts of extreme coldness in the middle of the night because of this, which added one more thing to the unpleasantness of being awake.
Be caref... (read more)
I've failed Uberman twice myself. You have pretty much an optimal plan, except for the naptation.
"Cut your naps down to 6 as quickly as you can without it hurting too much".
From my own knowledge, which may or may not be trustworthy, naptation doesn't need to be ended prematurely - the whole point is to get a huge number of naps in a short timeframe in order to learn to get REM in a 24-minute interval (which dreaming is a sign of). Getting a few more will just decrease your REM dep. The way I would do it is, get 12 naps a day until you find your... (read more)
Another thing that happened when I tried this was that no alarm could phase me. Every alarm I tried, including one that required typing my computer password, I would figure out how to turn it off in my sleep. I'm sure I could have continued escalating into solving np complete problems before it stopped, but I gave up soon afterward. I pretty much woke up exclusively from other being physically waking me. I even answered the phone while asleep once, no idea what I said.
What is the point of fasting?
What's the point of fasting exactly?
Going to ditto Khoth and hoping for a separate alert - this seems really tempting for me, but I have a strict enough schedule that I don't think I can afford to experiment on low-confidence possibilities.
(Though the recent FB post about switching to lucid dreaming is probably a bad sign...)
I feel I should point out that mindfulness meditation is not something you want to be doing if you're trying to get to sleep. For many people, myself included, doing it before bed can ruin a night's sleep. You want to do something like autogenics if you're trying to nod off, although if you can't, mindfulness meditation might help mitigate the effects of sleep deprivation.
One thing you might want to take into account: your baseline might be bad. Some of the people taking part might already be chronically sleep deprived or have a sleep disorder of some kind or another already.